Choosing a Martial Art?

Excerpted from Albemarle Family Magazine article, “Kids Flip for Martial Arts”:

Looking for a way to channel your child’s energy into something creative and fun that builds self-confidence, self-control and self-discipline? You need look no further than your neighborhood martial arts school.

Parents whose children aren’t into team sports, such as soccer or football, often choose martial arts for an activity, say area instructors. Some parents say they like martial arts because it teaches children manners, respect (for themselves and others) and mental skills including concentration and self-awareness. It can even help some children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to the Mayo Clinic.

Not sure where to start? Most schools will let you “sample” a class to see if it’s a good fit for your child.

Don’t Know Your Aikido From Tae Kwon Do? You Are Not Alone!

But before you get started, let’s find out some basics about martial arts in general. If you’re like me, all you know about the martial arts is what you’ve picked up from that song “Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting” or Peter Sellers getting ambushed in the old Pink Panther movies!

“Many parents have little direct experience, and so are unfamiliar with the difference between the martial arts,” says Gene Shin, a Ph.D. in Education and fifth-degree black belt, who teaches judo at SSJ Judo, in Charlottesville.

Let’s begin with a definition. Modern martial arts are derived from historical self-defense or combat disciplines, and are primarily from Asian cultures (including Korea, Japan and China). They include aikido, judo and tae kwon do. But what is the correlation between a fighting discipline and art? Dr. Shin describes it this way:

“Art is the activity wherein the human experience is explored and expressed. It is the attempt to resolve fundamental questions of being and beauty through acts of creation and expression. Art therefore contributes to and illuminates the human experience. As martial artists, we struggle with the creation of the self. We do not work with paint, or clay, or metal; we work with material that is more colorful, more malleable, and yet tougher than steel. The human body is our sculpture, the mind is our canvas, and the will is both chisel and brush.”

Martial arts can be grouped into two broad categories, “soft” and “hard”. “Soft” arts tend to rely on redirecting an attacker’s force, and emphasize circular motions to execute throws, joint locks, and groundwork. “Hard” arts tend to emphasize punches, blocks, and kicks, and so rely on quick, linear motions. Both types require time and effort to learn, but the distinction is useful because people tend to enjoy more success in the disciplines that best match their personality. Here is a brief overview of some of the most popular and their countries of origin:

Soft Arts:

AIKIDO is a Japanese art of self-defense that means “way of harmony” and employs holds and locks using principles of nonresistance to debilitate your opponent. Thurston Carlton, who teaches classes at the Aikido Shobukan Dojo in Washington, D.C., describes it as a martial art that “subdues an attacker without doing [him] harm. By practicing aikido, you change yourself, and this is indeed true,” he said. “The basic idea is a response to an attack — you take control of an attacker by throwing [him] off balance.”

JUDO, means “gentle way” in Japanese, and teaches that, rather than meet force with force, it is more effective to learn how to yield first, and turn an attacker’s force against him. In this way, a smaller person can easily respond to a larger person’s aggression, and throw him to the ground. Judo also works extensively on the ground to teach people how to escape from or apply pins, chokes and joint locks. Today, judo is practiced along a wide spectrum, from self defense, to art, to Olympic sport, and is studied in almost every country all over the world.

TAI CHI, from China, is a low impact form of martial arts training, practiced primarily for its health benefits. This meditative style, originally formed for combat purposes, has evolved into what is today more focused on breathing, internal energy and stress relief.

WUSHU or KUNG FU, also from China, means “well done,” and encompasses a vast array of disciplines, both soft and hard. Some include sharp blows and kicks, while others emphasize flowing, graceful motions.

Hard Arts:

KARATE is another Japanese art (from Okinawa) of self-defense where sharp blows and kicks are used on an opponent’s pressure points.

TAE KWON DO is a Korean style of karate. (In fact, it is the Korean national sport.) In the Korean language, “tae” means to kick or destroy with the foot. “Kwon” means to punch or smash with the fist. And “do” means “way” or “art.” Some call it “the way of the foot and the fist.” Tae kwon do was introduced as an Olympic sport in the 2000 Sydney Summer Games.


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